Editor's note: By all standards, the 2018-19 athletic school year was a disappointing one for many UL programs. This is the fifth of a 10-part series that reviews the ups and downs of last year's season in each sport and previews the prospects for the coming school year.
The glory days of UL’s track and field program in the Sun Belt era were in the 1990s.
During that time, the Ragin’ Cajuns men’s program won conference titles each year from 1992 through 1998 and the women won in both 1993 and 1997.
If coach Lon Badeaux has his way, that list of conference track champions will be growing soon.
But it might not seem like it to someone judging from afar.
This past school year, the men’s cross country team was sixth, the indoors was fourth and the outdoors finished sixth. On the women’s side, UL was 11th in cross country, eighth in the indoors and ninth during in outdoors.
Much of the optimism flows from recent recruiting, coaching changes before this past season and a new plan of attack.
“We decided to take a different model,” said Badeaux, who took over the program in 2011 and who finished third at the national indoors back in 1996 as a pole vaulter.
The change in philosophy revolves around putting more emphasis on depth and less on winning races.
“Our good years weren’t bad years — second, third or fourth maybe, that type of thing,” Badeaux said. “But we just had trouble getting over the hump. We were losing by depth basically. With the way we were doing it, if someone key got hurt, we weren’t third anymore, we were ninth now.”
The new approach emphasizes scoring in far more events.
“It was, ‘Let’s go ahead and try to score six points per event,’ ” Badeaux said. “Let’s have 15 different ways to get six points per event. You don’t have to take first. You can finish third or fourth. Let’s go try to win with depth.”
Part of this formula was bringing in two new coaches in Tommy Badon to coach and recruit the sprinters and hurdlers and Terry Hughes to coach the throwers.
“Bringing coach Badon and coach Hughes was huge,” Badeaux said. “We were unsure how the coaches would mesh, but everyone just seemed to get on the same page. (Badon) is a recruiting bulldog. Every staff has to have one of those. We needed him to go out and get all the sprinters in Louisiana that we weren’t getting before. We did the international thing pretty well and I do (recruit) my kids (field) locally pretty well, but we definitely needed someone to help with the sprinters.”
Badon actually plays multiple roles in the program. As a longtime high school football coach, he brings a high level of intensity. He also was in the program during those glory years in the 1990s.
“It is working,” Badeaux said. “I knew I needed to go in a little different direction, because we were kind of beating our heads against the wall there for a while. Something needed to change.
“I kind of let him do his thing. If he wants to give a big rah-rah speech, I let him give a rah-rah speech. He’s really good at that.”
Far too often in recent years, the mens' squad would fare very well in the field events, only to watch their fate slip away on the running side of things.
“We’d pick and choose on the track where we were going to hit it, because we just didn’t have the depth on the track,” Badeaux said. “When you’re sitting on your hands watching 200 and 400 hurdles and you have nobody in it, it’s tough.
“That won’t happen next year, because we have so many more sprinters and distance kids on the track. We’re not going to blow big leads on the track anymore.”
This past spring, UL’s men scored 88 points, better than the 60.5 points and ninth-place finish in 2018.
“Now we’re going to try to be a little more of a well-rounded team,” Badeaux said. “And the conference kind of lends itself to that because you have a couple of teams that were loaded with seniors that they’ll be losing, so we’re striking it at the right time.”
But as excited as Badeaux is about the prospects for the men next school year, his hopes are even higher on the women’s side.
Led by the signing of local pole vaulter Reagann Leleux, UL’s women’s squad will be bolstered by 20 newcomers and a couple of talented holdovers.
Instead of putting all their eggs in this year’s basket, UL’s coaches elected to redshirt key veteran performers to lead the talented recruiting class.
“We could have been in the top five or six outdoors (in May), but we decided to redshirt a few kids this year and try to win it at home next year,” Badeaux said, referring to UL hosting the Sun Belt Conference meet in May.
“Once we get to outdoors, I think it’s very realistic to be top one or two next year.”
That’ll be quite a feat with the womens' best recent finish being sixth in 2013, while the men have had a third in 2017, a second in 2012 and a fourth in 2010 in recent memory.
Before that challenge arrives, Badeaux hopes to address some cross country issues. On the men’s side, Hannes Burger’s transfer to North Carolina State didn’t help.
“But I think we’ll be a solid team,” he said. “This is at the end of a pretty good cycle on that, so at the end of the year, we’ll be starting over.”
UL’s men cross country, which won the title in 2004, was second in 2016 and fourth in both 2014-15.
“The women were in complete rebuilding mode this year,” Badeaux said. “You’ll see it improve next year.”